Mozambique holidays on the Quirimbas Archipelago offer the perfect blend of indulgent relaxation and more active pursuits, and kayak excursions are the perfect example. They’re just strenuous enough to give you a workout, but the paddling is interspersed with moments of quiet contemplation of the tapestry of natural beauty interwoven with compelling human history.
Our time below the waters of the Quirimbas Archipelago, whether snorkelling or diving, had only increased our appetite for more exploration. It had been hard to miss the bright orange kayaks pulled up on the powdery white sand in front of our luxury island lodge; all that remained was to decide who sat where in the tandem version. On the grounds of ‘age before beauty’ my partner got the bow, while I sat in the stern. Our guide, who was considerably more adept with the paddle than either of us, darted around us like a reef fish.
As we paddled out from the shore across the glassy ocean, we had an idyllic view of the lodge, set just back from the beach. The manager, who had come to see us off, gave a cheery wave.
The lodge’s dhow was just ahead of us in the bay, with the crew unfurling the sail to catch the breeze. The only passenger today was the chef, resplendent in his whites and clutching a fishing rod. ‘Tuna!’, he called by way of greeting, so we knew we’d be having an excellent lunch when we returned.
We steered to follow the line of the coast, and passed what looked like an abandoned Portuguese holiday villa. A thin skein of rising smoke told a different tale, and I smiled to think that Africa was streets ahead of the rest of the world when it came to repurposing.
Although there are plenty of places to explore on the Quirimbas Archipelago, our destination today was the renowned mangrove forests, and a vivid patch of green on the shore showed us that we didn’t have too far to go. As we turned into the inlet to a creek, we entered a new and unexpected world.
Standing on their partially exposed, arching roots, the mangrove shrubs seemed to be walking towards us. Hundreds of crabs skittered along the water’s edge, and the brilliant flash of a kingfisher darted past us. We stowed our paddles and allowed the slight current to carry us to the far bank.
Our guide athletically sprang from his kayak, and, helping us to beach ours, led us to the nearest tree and explained the fascinating ecology of the mangrove forest. He lifted up one of the leaves, revealing white crystals underneath. Prising one off, he passed it to me and invited me to taste it – it was salt, of course, from seawater that had splashed the leaf and then evaporated in the heat.
We learned that mangroves are the ultimate survivors of the arboreal world. Every day, with the turning of the tides, they experience being partially immersed in salt or brackish water, then they dry out in the sun as the ground around them becomes increasingly saline, and then they are flushed and hydrated again by more seawater. Very few trees could survive such a lifestyle, which is why there were only a handful of species here. They were however, able to create an ecosystem that supported a great many creatures.
We had only been paddling again for a few minutes when I spotted a bright turquoise bird on a low branch – a mangrove kingfisher. It perched for long enough for me to get a great shot, and then a splash announced that another kingfisher species was in the area.
Looking up, we saw several more pied kingfishers hovering above the creek, and occasionally plunging into the water. Below us, schools of silvery fish darted in and out of the submerged mangrove roots. During the time that we spent in the creek, the tide was coming in, but even when we paddled against it on the return trip the going was never hard.
The distinctive cry of a fish eagle reached our ears – a call that we had heard in Botswana and Zimbabwe too, and which never failed to delight. Around a final bend in the creek, we came across the sprung ribs of an ancient wooden sailing vessel, poking out of the water. Several white-breasted cormorants were perched there, sunning themselves, and the white splashes of guano on the timbers showed that this was a regular haunt of theirs.
As we paddled closer, our guide explained that no one knew the precise identity of this ship, but local legend maintained that it was the wreck of a Portuguese caravel, blown off course in a storm. As a child, he’d been told stories of lost riches, but the gleam of gold eluded us and we happily settled for the treasures in the cooler lashed to his kayak instead.
As we rounded the final curve in the shoreline before the lodge, we saw that the dhow had returned before us, and a familiar figure in white was wading through the shallows, with a silver ingot on his shoulder – or was it a yellowfin? Yum.